In the shadow of an improving economy, Nebraska Farm Bureau picks agriculture’s top 5 issues in 2010 and forecasts what will be agricultural challenges in 2011. Agriculture continues to be a target for a variety of groups upset with modern food production, and this was one of the top issues facing Nebraska farmers and ranchers in 2010 and will be a top issue in 2011, Keith Olsen, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau, said Dec. 28.
“Animal rights groups continue to seek restrictions on animal husbandry practices. The Humane Society of the United States’ visit to Lincoln in November shows increased activity by animal rights groups in the state. High fructose corn syrup is attacked for contributing to obesity, ethanol is attacked in the food vs. fuel debate, and litigation threatens the continued production of GMO sugar beets, threatening more than half of U.S. sugar production. There are many misconceptions about agriculture and farmers and ranchers must tell their story,” Olsen said.
Number two on the list: regulatory uncertainty.
Nebraska agriculture faced a non-stop regulatory assault in 2010 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and we expect it to continue in 2011, he said. Spill prevention rules, reexamination of Atrazine, and potential regulation of irrigation engines by EPA are prime examples of regulatory uncertainty faced by farmers and ranchers.
“EPA has introduced massive new air and water regulations—including some that have no real environmental impact but merely create a paperwork nightmare. Farmers and ranchers are America’s original environmentalists because their livelihoods depend on high-quality air, water and soil; if these regulations are fully implemented, they will have a huge negative effect on Nebraska’s agricultural economy,” Olsen said.
Third on the list are taxes.
At the national level, extension of the current income tax rate, and capital gains taxes were prominent. The best news this year, however, was meaningful estate tax reform, he said.
“There is a misconception that estate taxes only affect the super wealthy and that is just not the case. With recent agriculture land prices increasing drastically, estate taxes have a real impact on farmers and ranchers. The reform gives young people the opportunity to stay in agriculture and not sell a farm or ranch that has been in their family for generations,” Olsen said.
At the state and local level, property taxes were also an issue. Ag land values increased 12% statewide in 2010 from 2009, increasing the growing burden of property taxes, he said.
The fourth issue is water. Whether it’s the Republican River compliance, the Platte River endangered species program or integrated management, water issues continue to bubble to the surface for Nebraska agriculture.
“Nebraska agriculture and its economy relies on irrigation, so its imperative everyone work together to make the best decisions for irrigators, local communities and Nebraska citizens,” he said.
The top 5 list of agriculture issues wouldn’t be complete without including weather as number five.
The winter of 2009-2010 was one for the record books. Livestock producers were challenged to reach animals and make sure they had food, water and shelter. Many crop farmers were unable to complete 2009 harvest until spring of 2010. There were floods and hail in the spring and summer across the state, he said.
“However, the fall of 2010 had unprecedented harvest weather, which allowed farmers and ranchers to finish earlier than usual. While weather is always an issue for agriculture, 2010 was unusual,” Olsen said.
Regulatory uncertainty and increasing attacks on agriculture are two challenges agriculture will continue to face in 2011. Rounding out the 2011 top 5 agricultural issues will be state and federal budgets deficits, trade agreements, market volatility/input costs and profitability, Olsen said.
Farm Bureau’s top agriculture issues in 2010
Increasing Attacks on Agriculture
Water Issue (Republican Compact, Lower Platte Basin and Platte River)
Top agriculture issues for 2011
Federal and State Budgets Deficits
Increasing Attacks on Agriculture
Market Volatility, Input Costs and Profitability